The Love Letter that Wasn’t

Anu was frantic. She had a Math test coming up in two days and she felt hopelessly unprepared. “I hate Math. Why do we need to know this crap? It seems so pointless”, she complained to her friend Ankit. “Well, I heard that the BS Chopra Math guide is really helpful. Maybe you should get it”, he said. “I don’t have the money to buy one of those expensive guides. I hate school, I hate Math, I hate the professor, I hate myself”, Anu ranted as her eyes welled up. “Don’t cry, Anu, I’ll ask my brother if he has his old guide”, Ankit consoled her. “No. Nothing will help. I hate life”, said Anu and left in a huff.

The next day, Anu was at home trying her best to figure out differential calculus. “I hate this crap”, she muttered to herself. “Here you go” – She looked up to see Ankit standing in her room. He shyly handed Anu a wrapped packet. “I’ll see it later, I’m too busy cramming now”, she said. “No, I think you should see it now”. Anu reluctantly grabbed the packet and opened it. “OH MY GOD! You got me a copy of the Math guide!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Ankit blushed, and mumbled something unintelligible. Anu opened the book and began reading it as Ankit slowly left the room. The first thing she noticed was the name written inside the book – Arvind Jagannathan. So, Ankit had borrowed the book from a friend of his brother’s. She had barely processed this information when a card fell out of the book. “Anu, I will do anything to stop you from crying, always. Will you be my girlfriend?”, it said. It was almost as if her feet took flight – she ran out to her balcony and called out his name. He was almost at the gate but he turned and looked at her as she yelled out “YES!”

***********************

Many years passed. Anu was a longtime veteran of love and broken hearts. For someone with an intense dislike of Math in the tenth grade, she had managed to pass out with a degree in Computer Engineering from IIT Kanpur, and was one her way to one of India’s top business schools for an MBA in Finance. She no longer hated Math as intensely as she did when she was younger, in fact, she had become a Math geek who enjoyed solving puzzles.

On the first day of b-school she was sitting in a corner and doodling on her notebook when a deep baritone broke into her thoughts – “I must say you draw amazingly well”. She looked up and saw a guy staring intently at her doodles. He wasn’t cute in the traditional sense, but there was just something about him. She didn’t know what to say so she mumbled a quick thank you and went on with her drawing. But now that she knew someone was looking, she made sure she was no longer doodling but showing off her drawing skills.

Days passed, and Anu got to know the quiet guy better. He was her polar opposite in many ways – calm, and with a sense of self-assurance that she envied. They spent hours and days arguing about everything under the sun. They became extremely good friends who had long conversations about anything and everything. They had discovered many things in common too. Over the next few months, Anu slowly realized that she had fallen hard for this simple, unassuming guy who was so unlike all her exes. She wondered if he felt the same way about her, and wished he would give her a hint. But he never did. And Anu didn’t know what to say so she didn’t say anything either.

“Anu, you’re nuts. If you like him, you should tell him. Why do you have to wait for him to make the first move?” her friend Shruti asked her one day. “I don’t know Shru. It just seems like one of those things where you’d expect the guy to make the first move?” “Seriously?! Which era do you live in, dude? Just tell him. What’s the worst that can happen?” Anu didn’t have an answer for that, so she just let it slide. But Shruti wouldn’t let her forget the conversation. Everyday, she kept asking Anu if she had thought of telling him, until finally one day, Anu decided to tell him after one of the weekly parties at school.

The party was like all other parties at the school. Loud music, alcohol smuggled in innocuous looking soda bottles, couples going for walks in dark corners of campus. Anu didn’t know how exactly to tell him what was on her mind so she opted to go for a walk with him. She hoped that over the course of conversation she would find some way to tell him how she felt. For some reason he was exceptionally chatty that night. As they walked around campus he suggested they talk about random things like their childhood, friends from school and favorite things to do. While he went on about his love for Math, and how he thought it was so cool that she was a Math geek too, Anu opened up enough to tell him how she got interested in the subject. “You know, once upon a time I detested Math”, she began. “No way! You are always ready to try out puzzles, how could you possibly be one of those people who didn’t like Math?” “No, I was. I hated it so much, I was convinced I’d flunk my tenth boards. But then, my ex back then, he got me this awesome Math guide that helped me study for the boards. I think the guide made me fall in love with the subject.” “Wow”, he said, “that’s some guide! I wish I had one of those.” And then Anu told him something she hadn’t told anyone at the time. “Actually, the guide was the standard BR Chopra one. But this was a second hand book, and the previous owner of the book had scribbled these math puzzles and suggestions all over the margins. They helped me really understand the material, and I used the puzzles to sharpen my skills. It’s how I got interested in Math puzzles too. Sometimes I think that book is pretty much the reason why I got as far as to be able to crack the JEE. I wish I could thank the owner….”, her voice trailed off, as she looked at the guy standing in front of her with an inscrutable expression on his face.

The pieces began falling into place almost instantly, for both of them. They were both from the same small town, even though they hadn’t met till they got to b-school. She knew he went to the same school as Ankit’s sister, infact, she had even mentioned to him once that she knew a schoolmate of his. He’d said he vaguely knew her and they’d moved onto other topics. Anu could not believe however that she had never made the connection, that while she had thought she would always remember the name emblazoned into the cover of the book, time had nearly erased that memory. Arvind Jagannathan. With every puzzle she solved in that guide, she’d thought of how awesome it would be to meet the guy who seemed to love Math so much, that it had become easy for her to fall in love with it too. And here she’d met him, been friends with him for almost a year and had almost missed out on the most important connection of them all. “You got my book, didn’t you?” he asked shyly, almost hopefully. Anu didn’t even let him completely finish the thought before she kissed him.

She had always thought of the Math book as being her first Valentine. After all, the card that fell out of it was the first time a boy told her he’d loved her. However it turned out the book was a Valentine of a different kind entirely. It led her toward a path she had never thought she would be on. She had always thought the card that fell out of the Math book was her first Valentine. But, as it turned out, the book itself was her first, and last Valentine.

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